Valley Forge Military Academy and College

Staff Rides at VFMC are an integral part of instruction. By taking Cadets out of the classroom, the learning process becomes a tangible experience.

Among the Staff Rides for the spring semester was one to the Philadelphia home of the USS Olympia and the Independence Seaport Museum. The Olympia was a US Navy cruiser ship commissioned in 1895.

“Staff Rides put a lot of the instruction on the shoulders of the Cadets who are participating,” said Robert Smith, Ph.D. MEd, provost of VFMC. “They research in advance the historical importance of what we will visit – in this case, the USS Olympia – and essentially teach the details while we are at the location.”

The USS Olympia was selected for a Staff Ride because Cadets have been learning about the military’s build-up in the Nineteenth Century as well as the Spanish-American War that won the nation an overseas empire. 

According to Cadet Anna Davis, “The USS Olympia’s principal function was to safeguard American economic interests by patrolling the world’s waters. This included upholding American laws, defending American residents and their belongings, and defending American trade ships from pirate attacks or foreign force piracy.” 

This trip put them on the deck of a vessel which earned a place in history across many conflicts. The USS Olympia was commanded by Commodore George Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay at the start of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Dewey famously said, “You may fire when ready, Ridley” to the ship’s captain.  It saw battle in the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas during World War I and performed a service of honor returning the Unknown Soldier of that war to Arlington National Cemetery.  Not only did cadets stand where Dewey did, but they were able to compare living conditions between officers and enlisted crewmen.  They analyzed the ship’s weapons in person, and taught each other about the history and capacity of the ship.

One of the benefits of VFMC’s staff ride program is that it prepares ROTC students for their army battle analysis project.  Students get the opportunity to practice their analytical skills, writing skills, and ability to understand the contexts of battles. With the Olympia, cadets were able to see how long-range planning, government spending, and military operations come together to prepare soldiers and sailors for the battlefield.

Other Staff Rides at VFMC have included Valley Forge Historical Park, the battlefields of Trenton and Princeton, and the Philadelphia Navy Yard.  Future rides will take students to the sites of the battles of Gettysburg and Germantown.